The then chief of the Soviet secret police Lavrentiy Beria is credited to have said, “Show me the man, and I will show his crime”. Several events in contemporary India tend to remind us of the infamous statement just as the Government’s handling of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) tend to echo the equally infamous saying, “Show me the person and I will show you the law.”
Selective use of the law is a feature of banana republics. And judging by what has been happening in and out of the CBI, we do seem to be very close to it.
Take the case of Special Director Rakesh Asthana. Widely believed to enjoy the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national President Amit Shah, Asthana till recently was tipped to take over as Director of CBI. His chances came crashing down in October last year when the CBI itself lodged an FIR against him for bribery, extortion and corrupt practices. His petition to quash the FIR was rejected by Delhi High Court, which ordered CBI last month to complete the investigation in the case within 10 weeks.
Asthana could have been left to cool his heels till the completion of the investigation of charges against him. After all it was the Government which sent him on forced leave in October. Having already spent 10 weeks on forced leave, he could well have been left alone for 10 more weeks. But the Government in its wisdom decided this week to rehabilitate him, curtailed his tenure in the CBI and posted him to head ‘Civil Aviation Security’.
By doing so the Government has given clear signals that the former Special Director of CBI will in all probability get away with a clean chit.
Had Alok Verma continued to be in the saddle in October, 2018, the story for Mr Asthana would have been very different. CBI had claimed to have recorded incriminating phone conversations between Asthana and Dubai based middleman Manoj Prasad. The FIR had claimed that Asthana had accepted financial favours from a controversial company, Sterling Biotech, while making arrangements for his daughter’s marriage. He was also accused of accepting bribes and running an extortion racket at the CBI.
The charges were both serious and unusual. They were serious because this was the first time the investigating agency was trying to prosecute one of the serving Directors for corruption. They were unusual because the agency claimed to have clinching evidence and also a statement recorded by a Hyderabad based businessman who told CBI that he had paid up ₹3.5 Crore as part of a ₹5 Crore deal in return for assurance that he would not be harassed by the agency in the Moin Qureshi case.
The fact that the Delhi High Court refused to give him any relief tended to confirm the suspicion that the charges against him were not entirely baseless. The Government’s hurry to end his forced leave and rehabilitate him also appears to confirm speculation that he has been rehabilitated and the CBI will close the case against him.
With neither the Government nor the judiciary inclined to enquire into the allegations made in the petition filed by DIG Manish Sinha, who had alleged that the National Security Advisor Aji Doval had interfered in the case, these charges are also unlikely to find a closure. Indeed, the Government’s decision to move four senior officers out of the CBI, including Asthana, Jt Director A.K. Sharma, DIG Sinha and a SP ranked officer seem designed to ensure that none of them are left with a cause to pursue the cases. Once they are out of the agency, they will hardly be in a position to pursue allegations that evidence was tampered with or destroyed by the CBI itself.
Nor does it seem likely that people will ever learn the truth about allegations that the tenure of M Nageshwara Rao as interim director, set aside by the Supreme Court but defied by the PMO which put him back in the saddle without the approval of the high powered selection committee, was used to bury sensitive cases and ensure that evidence related to many of them get ‘lost’.
It seems a foregone conclusion that in the meeting of the selection panel called on January 24 to select a new CBI chief to escape judicial scrutiny of the appointment of Rao as interim chief, the Government will ensure that it puts CBI in charge of an officer it trusts. That is of course how it should be.
But in case the new CBI chief is also from the Gujarat cadre, the coincidence will further erode the credibility of the agency as well as the Government. As it is, the CBI has suffered incalculable damage to its reputation and will take years to recover. But another IPS officer from the Gujarat cadre at the helm of the CBI will tend to confirm the charge that the agency remains a caged parrot of the PMO.